HILLMAN-One by one the members of the Hillman boys basketball climbed the ladder, each of them cutting a piece of the net, each of them taking a little piece of history with them.
No, the Tigers hadn't won an NCAA Tournament game, but they more than enough reason to celebrate.
Mike Klein scored 20 points and the No. 9 Tigers defeated Posen 59-43 on Saturday, putting the finishing touch on a perfect season in North Star League play by clinching the first outright league title in program history.
Posen (10-8) took an early lead, but Hillman would not be denied this afternoon. The Tigers drained 10 three-pointers and hounded the Vikings with the same stifling defensive sets that have frustrated opponents all season.
"It means a lot. We worked really hard for this and it shows all these little kids here that they can have big dreams," Hillman freshman Gunnar Libby said. "It's a pretty good rivalry and they really wanted to win (too)."
The Tigers (18-1, 10-0 NSL) led 51-34 after three quarters and were never in danger of losing their lead in the final period. As the last minute and a half wound down, Hillman fans chanted "North Star League."
Libby drained five triples on the day and Mason VanPamel added 12 points for Hillman.
The game added another chapter to an already big rivalry that has seen its share of great moments. There was physical play, back-and-forth action and a lively crowd that gave the contest the feeling of a playoff game.
"It feels great to our team and our community that we won the first outright and that we've really come together as a program and work really well as a team," VanPamel said.
This game was a far cry from the first meeting of the two teams earlier this season when Hillman took a 26-6 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. This time around Posen seemed determined to make Hillman work for it. The Vikings came out firing and scored the game's first eight points, which including a pair of three-pointers from Travis Sharpe and prompted a Hillman timeout.
"We came out and played hot the first few minutes and had them on their heels. They're a good team and they made adjustments to come back. It was a good game, hard fought both ways," Posen coach Matt Ponik said. "I was proud of my team for putting together a full game. There were a few lapses that could've made the difference, but it was a good game."
A pair of triples from VanPamel gave Hillman its first lead of the game late in the first quarter and helped the Tigers take a 14-10 lead.
From there, Hillman put on a display from the perimeter, sinking five treys in the second quarter while Posen struggled to keep pace. The Vikings found resistance everywhere they moved on the court and started each quarter fast, but slowed down each time as Hillman adjusted.
Sharpe led Posen with 17 points and Nick Hincka added 14.
Hillman led 34-23 at halftime, but Sharpe hit a pair of triples to open the third quarter and cut the lead to 36-29. The Tigers took control from there and outpaced Posen 15-5 the rest of the way with Klein netting nine points. Klein was one of Hillman's most consistent shooters all night, connecting with hands in his face and on wide-open looks.
The win not only clinched the league title for the Tigers, but it also ensured Hillman finished the season with a spotless home record, after winning their 12th straight game this season on their home floor and 14th straight game overall.
With the league title in hand, Hillman will turn its attention to district play. The Tigers host a Class D district starting today and play in a semifinal on Wednesday. Until then, the team can soak in its newfound place in school history.
"It's an awesome feeling. I've been here nine years and we've had a lot of real special moments, but you think of all the teams that have gone through and played here and tried to do what these guys have done," Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. "For them to do it with all the adversity we've had, being a top 10 team now and all the pressure, it's just outstanding."
HILLMAN (59): M. VanPamel 4 2-2 12; M. Klein 9 0-0 20; T. Jones 2 0-0 5; G. Libby 5 0-0 15; D. Ross 0 3-3 3; B. Zimmer 1 0-0 2; T. Powers 1 0-0 2
POSEN (43): T. Sharpe 6 1-2 17; L. Beccard 3 0-2 6; N. Hincka 6 2-6 14; J. Zaborney 1 0-0 2; C. Lewandowski 1 2-2 4.
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.